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On the Docket : Santa Monica and its landlords have their days in court--again. : Apartment Owners Seek U.S. Ruling on Rent Law

January 29, 1987|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Seeking to resurrect its eight-year legal battle against rent control in Santa Monica, a landlord group has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether the city's regulations allow owners a fair return on their investments.

Stephen Jones, the attorney for the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, has asked for a ruling on one aspect of the so-called Baker case. In the original suit, which emerged as the main legal challenge to Santa Monica's rent control, the landlords said the city's law violated property owners' rights to a fair rate of return. The suit also challenged the city's right to control the demolition of rental property.

The suit, named after Santa Monica landlord leader James A. Baker, was filed in April, 1979, less than 24 hours after voters approved one of the strictest rent control laws in the country.

The city lost in Compton Superior Court but won a delay pending an appeal. In May, 1986, a state Court of Appeal overturned the lower court's ruling. Last September, the state Supreme Court rejected a request to hear the case by the landlord group, which has spent about $500,000 so far in its legal battle.

Last month, Jones asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case because "the right of owners to receive a just and reasonable return is based on the California Constitution and the U.S. Constitution," he said.

"The court is not concerned about what happens to a few landlords in a small city on the West Coast," Jones said. "But they are concerned about the method and means that constitutional rights are guaranteed."

The city responded last week by asking the high court to reject the landlords' request.

"The U.S. Supreme Court typically will take a case when it presents something new, an opportunity to clear up (legal) conflicts or contrary (judicial) rulings," said Karl Manheim, a professor at Loyola Law School who is a consultant for the city on the Baker case.

"And there is nothing new about this case. . . . It simply follows settled law and there are no (legal) conflicts," Manheim said.

"The California Court of Appeal's resolution of the issues was correct," he said.

The high court will probably decide whether to hear the case within the next three months, Jones said.

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